Exploring the neighbourhoods of Mexico City

From world-class restaurants to buzzing nightlife, Mexico City is reinventing itself as the capital of contemporary. Yet the place is reconnecting with its past too, thanks to recent discoveries of its Aztec heritage. Whether you’re looking for all mod cons or historic haciendas, you’ll find some of the best luxury hotels in Mexico right here, hidden within the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods. Discover three of our favourite spots in this in-the-know guide. 

CENRO HISTORICO: CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE

They do things big in Mexico City. Take the Zócalo, the city’s vast main square in Cenro Historico. This is Mexico City’s pulsating heart – in fact, you’ll probably hear it beating as soon as you arrive. Every day, Aztec dancers perform a ritual dance and bang the drums for their ancestors.

The whole area is steeped in Aztec history. The very paving stones themselves were taken from the Aztec’s ceremonial centre, the Teocalli, which the Aztecs believed to be the centre of the universe. Get a feel for the ancient civilisation that created the Teocalli by exploring the Templo Mayor. Get your bearings, and start by looking at the scale model of the Templo in the on-site museum.

After this, why not take a stroll through Alameda Central, the main municipal park? Wander down the tree-lined avenues to the Palacio de Bellas Artes and marvel at its famous murals by Diego Rivera. Or, if shopping’s more your bag, turn the other way for some upmarket boutiques and mezcal bars. Mexico City has a sweet tooth, so you’ll have no trouble finding a sugar fix in all its pastry and sweet shops.

Stay in a palace
You’re visiting the Cenro Historico, so make your stay truly historic too. Downtown Hotel is just two blocks from El Zócalo. Escape the streets and bask on its rooftop terrace. From here, soak up views of the city or take a dip in the pool.

COLONIA JUÁREZ: UP AND COMING

Colonia Juárez is one of Mexico City’s best kept secrets – but word is spreading fast. This used to be the financial heart of the city. But after the 1985 earthquake, investors started pumping money into the area, creating a slew of chic new bars, restaurants and galleries.

Now is the time to visit. Rents are still cheap so local artists and small businesses fill the area, with big-name chains steering clear. Walk the streets and soak up the ‘positive vibes’ that feel fresh from New York’s SoHo in the Seventies. Stroll the neighbourhood and seek out some street art, or even a hip-hop or cabaret show.

There’s history here too. It’s said that Café La Habana was the place that Che and Fidel planned the Cuban revolution. And if you’d like a drink before you dine, then it won’t be hard to find a speakeasy. For some reason Colonia Juárez is riddled with them. One of the more authentic of the bunch is Parker & Lenox, decked out with art deco furnishings.

Immerse yourself in style
As contemporary and cool as Colonia Juárez is the stunning Stara Hamburgo hotel. With its rooftop restaurant, vertical gardens and private sauna and spa, this is a place to relax, reinvigorate and relish.

Tlalpan was once a sleepy little pueblo minding its own business, with charming leafy boulevards and cobblestone streets. Then Mexico City engulfed it and… Tlalpan carried on as normal. Strolling through this perfectly preserved village is like stepping back in time to when the grandees of the city came here to holiday. Their haciendas were the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle, nestled amongst the eucalyptus, pines and fruit trees.

Downtown Tlalpan is really just five square blocks or so, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style. Start your meander on the Plaza de la Constitucion, where you’ll see the Mercado Publico, a unique survivor of the French-style ‘porfiriato’ architecture. Look out for the vibrant colours of the colonial haciendas and the open-air museum of art – it’s literally all around you.

If you’d like to stretch your legs a little further, the Bosque de Tlalpan is a national park with wide, well-tended footpaths that’s rambler friendly. You can join an organised hike or just head out on your own. Keep your eyes peeled – you might be lucky enough to spot an eagle.

Your rural retreat
Treat yourself to a country retreat, right in the heart of the city. Puertas Del Bosque is a converted hacienda with vintage features given a contemporary twist. Each room has its own kitchen, along with specially chosen books, curios and contemporary art.